How to take better selfies on a paddleboard

Harvey Merrin is a photographer in training from northern England who knows how to handle the conditions up here. Somehow he always manages to turn low light daytime scenarios into moody images with some depth. For most of us, photography comes down to capturing shots of day to day activities with minimal equipment and even less skill. We’d all like to avoid reams of boring, bland photos clogging up our phone’s memory so that’s just what we’ll be discussing today.The good news is that you can get great images with just your phone in most conditions. Thankfully for us, Harvey has shared some of his tips for making the most of whatever light there is to shoot quality images with just a phone or a basic GoPro. After all the best camera for you is the one you’ve got on hand so it makes sense to focus on mastering it. Best of all, we’ll hear ideas on how to replace luck with technique to take better selfies. That’s right everyone, no more washed-out misery shots.

Tell us a little about your background in photography & what got you into shooting on the water:

  • I got into photography just a few years ago but I have always had a love for the outdoors. When I eventually did pick up a camera I naturally took to the route of nature and travel photography. One of my favourite things to do is spend time on the water and I try to get out to the coast or the lakes as often as I can. I’ve been using Bluefin kayaks for a couple of years now but have just recently started using a SUP which had to be a Bluefin. I don’t consider myself an expert by any means but it is something I seriously enjoy.

My paddleboard has been amazing for being on the water in a way I had never tried before. After a little practice I was ready to get the camera out and start shooting.

What are your top 3 tips for taking better outdoor selfies?

  • If you’re taking a selfie outdoors in some beautiful scenery you need to think of composition. Try using a wider angle to get as much of the landscape in as possible, but not so much that you lose the subject of the image which is you!
  • Try avoid facing the sun when taking the selfie so that you aren’t squinting. You need to actually see your screen to compose you photo perfectly.
  • If you are taking a portrait of someone else, as long as you make sure that their eyes are in focus then that’s the most important part done!

What are your tips for getting natural looking images?

  • When I’m out with my friends on our boards I often find that less is more when it comes to giving direction. My favourite thing about both photography and videography is capturing those truly candid moments with my friends. You may need to fire off more shots to catch a good one this way, but it’s worth it.

Is it possible for most people to take decent photos of themselves on a SUP?

  • Absolutely! A good stable SUP lends itself perfectly to photography. My Sprint is such an easy board to work with that setting up that perfect shot is easy. My top tip here is to have a couple of ideas in your head for shots you want to take before you head out with your board. Instagram is an amazing resource. I like to have a quick look through to see if I can get some inspiration and then try and shoot in my own way. 

Most people will be using their phone for SUP photography. What are your tips for making the most of the built in camera?

  • The cameras in smartphones are actually a really good start. If you are serious about upping your phone photography game I would recommend a lens adaptor pack. These allow you to mix up your shots and get some new angles in. The lens’ just clip on to the camera and allow you to shoot super wide-angle, fish eye, and even macros.

How do you protect your phone from moisture when your taking action shots on your SUP?

  • There are a range of water-proof housings available for phones. I would definitely test them at home first as some are a lot better than others. If you do get water on your phone my top tip is to use a microfiber cloth for wiping the lens. Keep one on hand instead of tissue to avoid water marks so you can carry on getting great, clear photos.

What are some of the best angles to try when taking pictures on the water?

I often find it useful to just put my camera down for a while and take step back. Sometimes I rush into trying to get all the photos I can, but taking a moment to just look around might reveal a new angle I haven’t tried yet. There might be a nice object to bring into the foreground of the shot to create more depth or something like that.One of my favourite go – to shots is to get the camera as close down to water level as possible and see what reflections you can get. This works particularly well with an action camera where you can drop it half below the water. It makes for some really interesting half and half shots.

What should people consider about lighting and glare when shooting from the water?

  • I always check the weather forecast before heading out as well as checking the sunset time. Sunset is a great time to shoot for really warm and soft light which looks nice when cast across the top of the water. That said, I’ve had a lot of fun getting out on the board on dark winter days and was able to get some dramatic looking shots.

How do you make the most of low-light daytime conditions when the weather is overcast and dreary?

  • Just because the weather is a bit rubbish outside doesn’t mean you can’t take great photosIn fact an overcast day can create the ideal conditions for a lot of photos by softening the light.
  • Direct sunlight, unless compensated for, can actually blow out a lot of your colours and shadows. I try and do as much as I can in-camera to compensate for the weather. This saves me time when it comes to editing. 
  • Because paddle boarding is often fast paced I use a fast shutter speed. The compromise is less light getting into the camera especially on an overcast day. By increasing my ISO to compensate for this, I can get well-exposed photos.
  • It sometimes takes me a little trial and error to get the right settings, but an ISO of 400 is usually suitable for an overcast day. That said, there is absolutely nothing wrong with having the camera on the programmed setting. Especially if you want to spend less time changing settings and more time paddle boarding!

iPhones for example allow considerable control over exposure. Before shooting, tap the square in the middle and drag the sun icon up or down to adjust.

What’s a good budget friendly camera for casual outdoor shooting?

  • Action cameras like GoPros are a great for being out on the water without having to worry about any water damage.  When you don’t have to worry you can enjoy yourself on your paddleboard. If you don’t want to change the settings on your GoPro whilst you are out, you can always just shoot everything in video. That way later on you can use the GoPro app to select a single frame from the video and turn it into a still photo.

What are your favourite GoPro mounts for SUP selfies?

  • One of my favourite GoPro mounts is the chest or head mount to give that first person shot. I find it a great way to create immersion in my videos.
  • Another great angle is attaching the camera to the paddle. This works well as a makeshift selfie stick, meaning there’s less equipment you have to take out with you. Plus, the paddle floats on top of the water, so there’s no risk of your camera sinking to the bottom of the lake if you drop the paddle. For anyone that prefers to shoot free-hand I would recommend using mount with a buoyant handle.

With Harvey’s tips in mind anyone has a shot at making the most of the conditions at hand. Here’s to taking the best pictures possible and giving yourself photos worth sharing. We’d love to see your SUP photography so please do tag us on Instagram with #BluefinSups. Do you have any tips on how to take better selfies on your SUP? If so, share them in the comments below!

Reading next